Boss Tweedborn—William Magear Tweed—and the “Tweed Ring” comprised of 20 aldermen and 20 assistant alderman in Tamanay Hall dominated New York politics for profit in the second half of the 1800s.
There had been attempts to lay out streets in New York going back to its founding. It was a process that would go on for the next few centuries, and would only accelerate in the decades before and after the Great Fire of 1835.
We think of New York as an island packed with buildings, a place of concrete sidewalks and tarmacked avenues, a city that as Frank Sinatra sang, “doesn’t sleep.” But Manhattan at the turn of the 19th century—in the years before its street grid was laid out and decades before the Great Fire of 1835 which would accelerate the city’s northward growth—was a very different sort of place. New York City back then was a sleepy town just on the island of Manhattan.
In the mid 1820s, New York had three theaters:, the Park, the Chatham, and the Lafayette. Some citizens felt there should be more, and in October 1825, the New York Association started work on a new house. They chose a site between the Bowery and Elizabeth Street just south of Canal Street, and Mayor Philip Hone officiated at the laying of the cornerstone. “This spot which a few years since was surrounded by cultivated fields,” he told the gathered, “where the husbandman was employed in reaping the generous harvest, and cattle grazed for the use of the city, then afar off, has now become the centre of a compact population.”
In the 1830s, New York was a small city. While the island of Manhattan had a prosperous community at its southern end, its northern area contained farms, villages, streams, and woods. Then on the evening of 16 December 1835, a fire broke out near Wall Street.